Peel ‘um, Eat ‘um and Suck the Heads!
Crawfish is probably the one ingredient that most Americans associate with Cajun cooking. Once deemed a poor man’s food from the swamp waters of Southern Louisiana, these little lobster-like crustaceans were a treat that local fisherman enjoyed only at home. It wasn’t until they were specially featured at the Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration in the early 1960s that crawfish gained widespread social acceptance. Once the world discovered the sweet, tasty meat of the so nicknamed “mudbug,” they started showing up not only in backyard boiling pots but also on restaurant tables. Due to their rise in popularity, crawfish are now commercially farmed throughout the South.
Crawfish boils where guests “peel ‘um, eat ‘um and suck the heads” are one of the most popular ways to enjoy this Cajun treat. Live crawfish are boiled in a spicy mixture of garlic, onions, corn cobs, new potatoes and the all important cayenne pepper. The finished product is dumped on a platter or a table covered with newspaper and guests eat the tasty meat of the crawfish tails and then suck the spicy juices from the head.
Crawfish season runs roughly from Mardi Gras (mid-February) through June. Call your local seafood wholesaler or ask your grocer’s seafood manager to order it for you in advance.
Don’t let crawfish season pass you by without “sucking the head and eating the tail” of at least one (or in my case several dozen) mudbugs!
Serves 15 to 20
30 pounds live crawfish (one sack)
2 cups salt for purging
2 (3 oz.) boxes crab boil seasoning
10 small onions, peeled and halved
2 pounds sliced Andouille sausage
5 pounds small red or new potatoes, unpeeled
4 heads garlic, sliced in half
10 ears of fresh corn-on-the-cob, shucked and broken in halves
To purge the crawfish, place them in a large plastic tub or a large ice chest and rinse them in enough changes of water for the water to run reasonably clear. Then add more water to cover the crawfish and add 2 cups of salt. Stir for 3 minutes, then rinse crawfish. Keep the cleaned and drained crawfish uncovered until ready to cook.
Fill a large 18 to 20 gallon pot three-quarters full. Add the crab boil seasoning. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Boil 2 to 3 minutes to allow the spices to mix well.
Using a large wire basket that fits into the pot, add the onions, sausage, potatoes, garlic, and corn. Maintain a boil and cook 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the crawfish to the wire basket, stirring them a bit. Cook an additional 7 to 10 minutes, being careful not to overcook the crawfish. Remove the wire basket from pot.
To serve, line a table with newspaper. Lift the basket from the stock and drain. Dump the basket ingredients directly on newspaper.
Note: Be sure to have plenty of paper towels and beer on hand!
Cooking Tip: Leftover crawfish can be peeled and the meat frozen to be later used in dishes such as Crawfish Etouffee, Crawfish Pies, and Seafood Gumbo.
Photo by Natalie Root Photography. Styled by Jennifer Chandler.